I played the original Advanced D&D for several years while in high school, but abandoned tabletop D&D years ago when I graduated. With the release of Fifth Edition D&D, I decided to buy the Starter Set and try it out with my family. My two younger children love it. My wife tolerates playing. My oldest only wants to play with his friends, not his family. (Teenagers.)
So, I thought I would post ruminations on our gaming sessions, and this first one is going to be about using dice. When running a game, I follow two basic rules for dice rolls:
- Always make the players roll dice.
- Never tell players the target score.
Dice rolls lend an air of mystery and uncertainty to the game. Any time the players attempt to do anything, you should tell them to roll a die—even if you have already determined the outcome or there's no choice of outcomes. To help keep the players guessing, you should never, or rarely, tell them the target score.
For example, the players choose to search the room for trap doors. There are no trap doors in the room, but, instead of telling them, “You find nothing,” make them roll a die. Don't tell them the target score (which is completely irrelevant, since there's nothing to find). Then, after the roll, you have three possible outcomes:
- The player rolls a natural 1, in which case you can invent some catastrophe, such as, “You don't find a trap door, but your probing causes the rotten floorboards to give way, leaving one leg stuck hip-deep in the floor."
- The player rolls a natural 20, in which case you can say, “Your careful search reveals that not only is there no trap door, but the construction is so tight, you couldn't even slide a feather between any planks. Truly a remarkable achievement.”
- The player rolls anything else, in which case you say, “You find nothing.”
The effect of this on the players is to always keep them guessing. They will frequently try multiple times with multiple characters, vainly searching for something they just KNOW is there, even when it isn't. Keeping your players guessing means they never quite trust you as DM, which means you have even more control over their actions. They will respond positively to even a minor suggestion, since they think you're finally giving in and letting them in on your secrets.
Of course, the one “downside” to this is you must have something for the natural 1 or natural 20 rolls. This will lead you to want to avoid die rolls for pivotal story points, but this should be the time you get the most creative.
For example, the players are questioning an NPC that has important information. As DM, you absolutely must have this information passed to the players. The inclination is to just have the NPC open up and talk. But you can still make this interesting for the players.
- A roll of 2 – 19 results in the NPC talking, just as you intended.
- A roll of 20 results in the NPC gushing over the players, frequently interrupting himself to compliment the players, or constantly asking to go along, and otherwise annoying the players.
- A roll of 1 has the NPC grudgingly giving out the information only under repeated questioning with the most charming of the players. Force the player to properly role-play the wheedling necessary to draw knowledge out of the NPC.
Over on YouTube, LindyBeige has another interesting take on dice rolls and how they affect the world. I may try to incorporate some of that into my games as well.
My younger son has an online persona called SheepEtiquette. He wanted some type of ovine player, so I created Warsheep. This is not wholly original. I scoured the Web for a while looking for ideas, and incorporated some things I found in various places. The seed idea comes from Dragon #300, which introduced weresheep. I post it here in case you find it useful for your own game, either as is or inspiration for your own custom character.
A Warsheep is both a race and a class.
Warsheep are Medium creatures, mostly human in appearance, with wooly white or gray hair all over their bodies and two horns sticking out of their heads. Both male and female Warsheep have horns. Warsheep have the following innate characteristics:
- Constitution +2
- Always have Disadvantage on Wisdom checks
- Always have Advantage on Charisma checks
- Unarmed attack: Head Butt, 1d8 bludgeoning + 1d4 piercing + STR bonus for damage, Proficiency bonus + 2 + DEX for attack roll, can only be used against Medium or Large opponents, DC 10 + CON bonus saving throw or Warsheep is stunned by own attack (add +5 to DC against solid metal armors)
- Warsheep suffer -2 attack against any type of wolf.
- Warsheep can cast “Charm Person” as a Bard of the same level the same number of times per day as the Bard can cast 1st level spells.
Use the Barbarian as the class for Warsheep with the following changes:
- Must follow the Path of the Totem Warrior and the totem animal must be a sheep. Use the “Bear” template for totem animal abilities with the exception that, while raging, Warsheep also have resistance to psychic damage.
- While raging, Warsheep are affected by Tasty, a condition in which carnivorous or omnivorous foes are attracted to the Warsheep. Unless actively engaged in melee with another character, the foe will attack the Warsheep at a -2 for attack, but +2 for damage. Tasty affect is -3/+3 at 9th Warsheep level, and -4/+4 at 16th Warsheep level.
- At 2nd level, Warsheep gain the Fluffy Comfort ability. This ability works exactly like the “Song of Rest” ability for a Bard of the same level. This ability only works for companions that can physically rest against the Warsheep during the resting period.
- Warsheep cannot multiclass.
I was born in the Deep South to parents who had migrated from north of the Mason-Dixon. My interest in the debate over display of the Confederate battle flag is limited to its place as a relic of a seminal event in American history. I have no vested heritage tied up in that history. However, I’ve decided to weigh in on this debate because I see in it echoes of a greater ill that plagues society and reaches even into such cultural kerfuffle as #GamerGate.
Reminders of the Confederacy are everywhere. For the past 20+ years I have lived in the capital of the Confederacy. My kids go to schools named after Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis. A downtown street is lined with huge statues of Confederate leaders. So, go ahead, get rid of the flag, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Confederates were also Americans, and that cannot be erased no matter how much we try. It is baked into our cultural memory because we are all descendants of both sides of the conflict. The Civil War was a struggle that exemplified a problem that continues to infect society today; and, no, I’m not talking about racism. Rather, it is the belief that people who disagree are better off dead.
In 1854, the US government created the states of Nebraska and Kansas. The Act called for popular vote in each new state to determine whether the state would permit slavery. Activists from outside the states immediately went to work, especially in Kansas. In May of 1856, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts gave a blistering anti-slavery speech on the situation in Kansas, and delivered disgusting insults to a couple of Southern senators. House Representative Preston Brooks, cousin to one of the impugned senators, entered the Senate chamber three days later and beat Sumner half to death. Both Brooks and Sumner were praised as heroes. Two days later, John Brown led a group of men into a house in Pottawatomie Creek, KS and hacked five pro-slavery men to death.
The bloodshed had begun. It would end almost ten years and 650,000 lives later.
The Civil War began because one group of people decided another group of people should be put out of their misery. In the past 150 years, American culture—indeed, the culture in most countries around the world—has changed little. You can hear echoes of Civil War mentality in rhetoric surrounding race relations, gender identity, abortion, immigration, climate science, gun control, terrorism, religious freedom, healthcare, welfare…yeah, verily, even videogames.
Two thousand years ago a Jewish carpenter stood on a hillside and told an assembled crowd that just calling someone a fool was equal to murder. Today, every minute, thousands of these verbal murders are committed in the press, in blog posts, on social media, in private conversations. If we are ever to deal with these problems in a non-violent way, it will not be in removing a flag, or changing the name of a sports team, or putting the picture of a woman on our currency. It will be when we stop vilifying people who disagree with us and have honest, open, peaceful discussions about our disagreements.
No, the Confederate battle flag should not be flown over government buildings; it is a symbol of separation and segregation. But we can’t—and shouldn’t—bury it. So let us display it in appropriate venues, and when we see it, let us point to it and remind ourselves and our children this is what happens when you decide other people are better off dead. Then let us work toward living in peace.
 Florida; sort of the Cleveland Browns* of the Confederacy.
*Maybe not the best analogy any longer. Let's say, sort of like the Jacksonville Jaguars of the Confederacy.
 My kids have graduated from those schools, and the school names were changed at the beginning of the 2020 school year.
 Jesus (like his father, Joseph) was probably a stonemason, not a carpenter.
I’ve written before how we often judge whether or not a decision was “good” or “bad” based on the results. A good decision can have bad results and a bad decision can have good results. The decision Pete Carroll made in Super Bowl XLIX to throw on second-and-goal has been widely excoriated as a really bad decision because it resulted in an interception that sealed New England’s victory. However, it was actually a good decision that had a really bad result because of poor play by Russell Wilson and good play by New England’s defensive backs.
First, let’s analyze the situation and the call. After a first-down run of 4 yards, the Seahawks had three plays to gain one yard. While that sounds simple “on paper,” it can be very difficult, especially at the one-yard line. Take a look at the sideline view…
Much has been made of Marshawn Lynch’s (Seattle’s running back) success on 3rd/4th downs with short yardage needed. But a running play at the goal line faces additional obstacles. On a short-yardage play at midfield, the defense still has to protect the field behind them in case of a breakthrough by the runner. At the goal line, the defense must only protect the line of scrimmage. All the open space of the end zone is irrelevant on a running play. This allows the defense to charge forward with abandon—if the runner gets past them, it’s over. So a running play is not a “gimme” at this point on the field.
The Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris on January 7 brings into focus a common theme pervading our culture…the “right” to not be offended. The jihadists who gunned down a dozen people for publishing offensive cartoons may have used the most extreme measure to intimidate, but the impetus—“thou shalt not offend me”—infects almost every line of discourse in society today.
When we begin to talk about free speech, people often retreat to a defensive argument that it’s not a violation of free speech unless the government inhibits speech. But, free speech is more than just freedom from government interference. If people do not feel free to speak their mind due to the threat of retaliation, then speech cannot possibly be said to be “free” regardless of whether or not a law has been passed.
It must be pointed out that being “offended” is an emotion, and we are (or should be) in control of our emotions. The hurtful impact of words comes from within YOU, not from the external source of those words. When your mother told you, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you,” she wasn’t lying to you. She was describing how an adult SHOULD handle hateful speech in a mature and reasonable nature.
Have words ever made me angry? Yes. Have I sometimes lashed back in anger? Yes. Getting angry was not wrong; letting my anger affect my response was wrong. It is still wrong.
Should people generally try to be civil and not “give offense” to others? Absolutely. The world would be a better place if we all treated each other with more respect. HOWEVER, we can go a long way toward making the world a better place if we refuse to allow other people’s words to cause us to lash out—especially to the point of hunting down and killing those who offended us.
Is it permissible to condemn hateful speech? Of course! The same freedom of speech exercised by someone to utter hateful speech gives us the right to tell those people they are being hateful. Or, to put it another way, the freedom that someone has to call you a bootlicker is the freedom you have to call them a whingy coward.
This applies to discussions of religion, video games, political causes, the environment, race relations…everything. We must be free to speak our mind about anything, or we are free to speak our mind about nothing.
 Of course, there are more and more people calling for government inhibition of free speech through hate speech laws, hate crime laws, etc. My position on that argument should be made abundantly clear through this post.
 I’m trying to keep this post PG. The insults hurled around on Twitter and other places are much, much worse.
10. Everything is designed for touchscreens. Hey! I still like to use a keyboard and mouse once-in-a-while!
9. Internet memes. Especially how they are obsolete so quickly. I’m just now starting to get the hang of the “One does not simply…” meme and my son looks at me cross-eyed when I use it.
8. Switching “alternate” functions on the function keys. I use F2, F3, F4, etc. all the time, but now on many laptops they change the brightness or turn off my wireless instead of their correct functions. Drives me nuts.
7. Cloud services. Let’s see, I’ve got Dropbox, and Google Drive, and OneDrive… All our data lives online now and people wonder why we don’t have any privacy. Well, it’s because…
6. Hacking. Seriously, if the average person understood how often Web sites and online databases get hacked, the Internet would shut down from so many people disconnecting.
5. Pace of change. I got a relatively new model phone less than a year ago and it’s already antique. :sigh: Now I have to slog through using such an obviously cheap piece of junk for another year before I can upgrade.
4. One-button interfaces. Thanks, Apple, for your “click-wheel.” Now “easy-to-use” interfaces are infecting everything from my digital thermometer, to my electric toothbrush, and even my car.
3. Click-bait Web sites. And the celebrities who share them.
2. Anonymity on the Internet is making “social” media very anti-social. Some of the stuff that pops up on Twitter would never be said to someone else’s face because you’d get punched.
1. Our reliance on the Internet. If the WiFi goes out in the house, it’s a national emergency. Thank goodness we get good cell tower coverage…
 OK, some of these are funny.
 Let’s be honest, the click-wheel wasn’t that great a control scheme anyway.
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